Rugby Union: England at bay in Bayfield's absence: Cooke anxiously seeking recipe for success against All Blacks

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The Independent Online
THE CERTAIN absence of Martin Bayfield, confirmed yesterday, is bad enough, but it is only one of a multiplicity of doubts that are nagging the England management as they try to prepare for the Test against New Zealand at Twickenham on 27 November.

Geoff Cooke, the manager, had given up on the 6ft 10in policeman's recovery from a neck injury by the time he named a squad of 24 who included only two specialist locks, Martin Johnson and Nigel Redman, both essentially front-jumpers. Tim Rodber, from the back row, looks a serious alternative.

If that were the only problem Cooke perceived, he would be a happy man. Instead, he is plainly anxious, in general about the team's capacity for getting to grips with the All Blacks after their five wins in England, and in particular about the place-kicking (or lack of it), try-scoring (or lack of it) and hooking.

To take the last point first, Brian Moore's place, seldom in much dispute except when it did not really matter since he first made the side in 1988, is now under review. There are three hookers in the squad, including not only Moore's long- term understudy John Olver but also the hooker he succeeded, Graham Dawe.

'We have been looking at the performance of the hookers and it hasn't been filling us with great confidence in the way they are going about their business and the way they are throwing the ball in,' Cooke said. 'We still have a fairly open mind on that one.'

Jonathan Callard's success- rate of eight from 15 kicks at goal for the South-West and England A against the tourists has also thrown selection into some confusion, so much so that Cooke is clinging to the notion that these poor rehearsals will mean a good performance, with Matthew Cooper's almost unerring accuracy for the All Blacks meaning the opposite.

'I'm not brimming with confidence about it at the moment,' Cooke said. Remembering the Blacks had only ever lost six of 161 games in England, he added: 'If you look at matches against New Zealand, not many score a bucketful of tries against them. It would be delving into the realms of fantasy to expect us to do so.'

Given that no one has scored a try against these All Blacks since London got two (and conceded five) in the opening match, Cooke can only wait and hope that Callard rediscovers his touch, since the manager gave a heavy indication that the uncapped Bath full-back would be in his team whenever they are finally revealed. Next Sunday the squad will train in private.

Cooke does not even appear to have been especially heartened by the closeness of the divisional matches against the tourists. 'The precision is lacking from our game, but when you watch our club rugby week after week it's not so difficult to understand.'

ENGLAND SQUAD (v New Zealand, Twickenham, 27 November): Backs: J Callard (Bath), I Hunter (Northampton), T Underwood (Leicester), R Underwood (Leicester), W Carling (Harlequins), J Guscott (Bath), P de Glanville (Bath), R Andrew (Wasps), S Barnes (Bath), D Morris (Orrell), K Bracken (Bristol).

Forwards: J Leonard (Harlequins), G Roundtree (Leicester), V Ubogu (Bath), B Moore (Harlequins), G Dawe (Bath), J Olver (Northampton), N Redman (Bath), M Johnson (Leicester), J Hall (Bath), D Richards (Leicester), B Clarke (Bath), T Rodber (Northampton), N Back (Leicester).

Scott Quinnell wins his first full Welsh cap against Canada in Cardiff tomorrow night. The Llanelli back row has been called off the bench to replace Stuart Davies, the Swansea captain who is to undergo surgery on a damaged knee.

Emerging Players squad,

Canada team,

Sporting Digest, page 39

Alan Watkins, page 38

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